Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Intellectuals Must Overthrow Igbo Political Traders

 By Joe Igbokwe, PM News

It is the duty of intellectuals in every society to set agenda for leaders so that they do not derail. They set agenda so that services will be delivered as at when due. Intellectuals do not exhibit intellectual dishonesty; they speak the truth to power always not minding whose ox is gored. When any society goes astray it is simply because the intellectuals went to sleep or they have been bought over. But the real intellectuals do not subscribe to the politics of the stomach.

The real intellectuals prefer to die of hunger than to sell their hard earned dignity. Understanding the dynamics of Nigerian politics has been the biggest problem of the Igbo in Nigeria. The Igbo, yes my Igbo don’t seem to place a neat handle on Nigeria’s intricate politics and how well it can be harnessed to improve the lots of the race. The annulment of June 12 1993 Presidential elections provided an opportunity for Igbo to join other Nigerians to defend democracy and rule of law but only a handful of Igbo stood with the Yoruba to defend June 12. The majority rather chose to be seduced by traders and illiterates to term the struggle a Yoruba struggle. The struggle for June 12lasted for five years and the rest is now history. But Yoruba was not defeated. Presidency was ceded to them for 8 years.

Leadership failure since 1999 has presented another opportunity for Igbo to work with other Nigerians to rescue Nigeria from rudderless and inept leadership PDP has foisted on the country. The Hausa/Fulani sacrificed ANPP and CPC to join APC. Yoruba moved from AD to AC, ACN and then APC. Instead of my people joining other stakeholders in the project Nigeria, they tagged the APC as Boko Haram party, Yoruba party, and Hausa party. They rather decided to tag slavishly along the despised and failed PDP and even when a mass exodus has hit the PDP, some Igbo traders and dancers of fortune feel it is their duty to warm the bed with a dead child. They eagerly received a dead child like the PDP which in fifteen years have destroyed the Igbo leg of the Nigerian three legged structure. From being the one of the three legs of Nigeria before the coming of PDP, the Igbo are today not even considered one of the sixth legs of a wobbling Nigeria yet some Igbo mercantilists propped by their bulging stomach and led in the nose by traders are serving as cannon fodders to the PDP. This they do, either as direct members of PDP or as hidden enablers of PDP. APGA has today been turned over to the PDP to be raped and exploited to its pleasure while the rest of the country moves to salvage the crumbling nation from the deadly virus the PDP has become.

The worst is that some so-called intellectuals who should know and direct the race aright have allowed the rumblings of their stomachs to make them intellectual pall bearers. They have allowed themselves to be dragged by barely literate traders and political harlots to serve at the meal table of the dying PDP, not minding the odious stenches. They are the most fanatic in defence of the means and odd ways of the PDP just because such action promises to keep morsels on their tables. It is a shame!

Igbo nation cannot live in isolation, Igbo nation cannot be an island unto itself. Igbo need to work with others, network, interface, negotiate, inter-relate, synergize, strategize, engage, dialogue and coordinate to make progress. Until Igbo show that they can be trusted by other Nigerians who are not Igbo the chances of ruling Nigeria may be remote. Igbo must love the people they want to rule. If you read ethnic meaning into any project in Nigeria it may lead to mistrust. To tag APC, Boko Haram party, Hausa party or Yoruba party is not a good strategy. It is at best a self defeatist ploy by die hard reactionaries to keep Igbo in perpetual chains and continue benefiting from the overflowing table of rot the PDP has employed to wreck and crumble this country for the past fourteen years. These Amaziahs of the Igbo nation are in a desperate mission to keep Igbo in perpetual bondage where they will never rise again. They have been dominant in the Igbo nation since after the civil war and have been the sole beneficiaries of the decreasing fortunes of the Igbo nation. It does not show tact, it does not show intelligence, it does not show commitment or deep understanding of the dynamics of Nigerian politics.

Political Traders are still choking the development of politics in Igboland. They still use money to confuse our people. They have nothing to give Igboland except filling their personal pockets. If they have anything for Igbo, why is it that in the last fourteen years, no Igbo man is located within the first six top positions in the country? Why is it that out people still have no federal investment in Igboland? Why is it that out people still spend days to cross the sole bridge over the River Niger? Why is it that we have the worst federal roads in Igboland? During election time, those that employ them as internal colonial masters give them money, give them police to come and manipulate results. After each election, they smile to the bank and ala Igbo continue to wallow in pitch darkness. They buy up votes and electoral materials just to be relevant. We have suffered mediocrity in the name of leadership. These are the fraudsters that bought and diverted electoral materials in Anambra.The recent electoral fraud in Anambra can be traced to this factor (the menace of political traders) Intellectuals must reclaim Igboland and cause our people to rise above clannish behavior, selfish politics, primordial sentiments, ethnic preoccupation to join others to reclaim Nigeria.

For the masses of Igboland, if after fifteen years, we are yet to articulate what we gained from the same PDP these traders are dragging us to, when will we start reaping the benefits of the slavish fidelity some political profiteers have led us to pledge for a dying PDP? If a writer is silent, he is lying. A school of thought says a story that must be told never forgives silence. I concur!

•Igbokwe wrote from Lagos

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Interview with Okwui Enwezor, Director of the 56th Venice Biennale

 By Chika Okeke-Agulu, Huffington Post

On Wednesday, December 4, the Press Office of the Venice Biennale announced the appointment of the Nigerian-born curator and scholar Okwui Enwezor as the director of the 56th Venice Biennale scheduled for 2015. In this interview, Enwezor discusses his career and the significance of his latest curatorial project.

Chika Okeke-Agulu: At the opening of Documenta11 in 2002, I remember saying to you that the next big challenge would be Venice. I said it as a kind of joke, but not because I did not think you could do it. Rather I was aware that only one other person--the legendary Harald Szeeman--had curated both Documenta and Venice. In any case, since Documenta you have organized Gwangju and Seville Biennales, as well as La Triennale, Paris, and now, Venice. I cannot imagine what it feels to join Szeeman in this curatorial pantheon?

Okwui Enwezor: Thanks Chika. That's extremely kind of you to make a comparison with me and Szeeman. I know this question will inevitably come up, and I want to be as clear as possible, I belong to no pantheon. There really isn't a comparison; Szeeman is entirely in a league by himself. In the abundance of his ideas, the almost carnal fervor for artists, artworks, and objects of all kinds, along with his bold, original curatorial experiments, he paved the path to the thinking that curatorial practice need not be too studied, formalist or dogmatic.

The fact that we are the only two curators to have helmed both Documenta and Venice Biennale is a historical happenstance; but one who's significance is still settling in. It is of course, a great honor to be entrusted with the task of organizing an exhibition of this magnitude and international acclaim. Nevertheless, it is not lost on me that there is some kind of meaning in the symbolism to which you drew attention. Exactly 15 years ago, I got handed the reins of organizing Documenta. I was 35 at the time, I had limited track record, no major institution, patron, mentor, behind me, yet somehow that amazing jury that selected me saw beyond those deficits and focused, I hope, on the force of my ideas, and perhaps even a little wager on the symbolism of my being the first non-European, etc. My sense of it was that the jury wanted a choice that could be disruptive of the old paradigm but still not abandon the almost mythic ideal of this Mount Olympus of exhibitions.

I came to Documenta as I said with little track record, but with an abundance of confidence. Now at fifty, I come to Venice with a different set of lenses and experience. As you mentioned I have now organized quite a number of biennials. It's time to get to work.

C. O.: Documenta11 was one of the few exhibitions that have been called game changers in the history of curating. And this, I believe had to do with your introduction of the multiple platforms scattered across the globe, as the constitutive sites of an event that until then only took place in Kassel. What are your preliminary thoughts about how you might approach Venice, given its history and structure?

O. E.: It's too early to say what shape the 56th Venice Biennale will take. Of course, I have some preliminary ideas, but those will be worked out in due course. The one virtue of Documenta is the time allowed to organize it, which made possible the platforms. But you must remember that the platform idea, which was fundamentally about the deterritorialization of Documenta, was not initially endorsed by certain landlocked critics, but once it took off its implications about going beyond business as usual became abundantly clear. I drew enormously from the Igbo saying: "Ada akwu ofuebe ekili nmanwu." The mobility of the platforms across major cities and some not so major ones was premised on this principle. To see the artworld properly as it should be, to engage in meaningful debate the curator must risk the sense of inquisitive wanderlust. However, Venice is an Island, but also a legendary maritime trading city that historically looked out to the rest of the world. The limited time permitted to organize the biennale produces a certain sense of temporal density. I am certainly thinking about how to surmount this conundrum.

C. O.: Looking at the trajectory of your career, from the early 1990s when, with a few friends and colleagues working in the margins of the contemporary art world, you founded Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, to becoming a leading academic, administrator and curator in the field of contemporary art, does it sometimes feel like an improbable story?

O. E.: All stories are improbable. Nothing is preordained. No one is born with a straight arrow in his quiver. It's a combination of relentless work and good fortune. Without this improbability there is no risk, no adventure, no discovery. I am an autodidact which was the basis of my ceaseless and restless appetite for ideas. I learned enormously about art, not in an art history seminar (I don't even recall actually taking one) but by seeing enormous number of exhibitions, being in the presence of art and artists every week, everywhere. I still do, and I maintain the exercise of seeing, reading, thinking, and writing.

I arrived in New York in late summer of 1982, at a pivotal point in the development of contemporary art, fashion, performance, music, etc. in the city. I was a beneficiary of the perfect storm of creative upheaval: art, postmodern and postcolonial theory, identity politics: race, sexuality, gender, queer and feminist activism, and the AIDS pandemic further refreshed my perspective on difference and politicized my response to injustice. This was the context that opened me up to complexity and to thought me to be courageous and fearless.

Also, Coming from Nigeria I felt I owed no one an explanation for my existence, nor did I harbor any sign of paralyzing inferiority complex. What was apparent was that most Americans I knew and met were actually not worldly at all, but utter provincials in a very affluent but unjust society. And when this became clear I saw no reason why I could not have an opinion or a point of view. I was not about to be respectful of ignorance of Africa or prejudice against African culture. This gave me some chutzpah.

I started learning about what was going on in downtown New York across every cultural and literary sphere through publications like Village Voice, Detail, Seven Days. I attended openings, went to readings, saw an enormous number of exhibitions, in every imaginable context, from apartments to Soho galleries, to alternative spaces to museums, nightclubs such as Danceteria, Area, Pyramid Club, Peppermint Lounge, Palladium, Save the Robots, The World, Roxy, Madam Rosa's, and later Nell's, Mars, you just name it. I was educated as it were in situ. I can actually say that I was there.

At some point this intense experience as a young Nigerian who was deeply interested in art and all types of the creative process ceases to be a fluke. I don't believe in standing on the margins. You should also know that what partly made Nka viable was that I did actually have a deep knowledge of international contemporary art. I was not pretending. When I started thinking of setting up Nka in 1991 when I was in my twenties, I was intellectually ready and had a certain theoretical grounding and immersion in art, visual culture, etc. I was already collecting a bit of photography and some art. My first major acquisition was the portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat by James Van der Zee from Howard Greenberg Gallery on Wooster Street. I would go to the Comme des Garçon boutique downstairs to shop and up to the Greenberg Gallery to browse vintage prints by Cartier Bresson, Kertescz, Weston, Moholy Nagy, Baron de Meyer. So with Nka It wasn't as if I did not know what I was talking about. The only reason it also worked was because I had the language and it was fresh and people were open to giving it audience. That it led to where I am standing today is both surprising and thrilling. But we are nearly thirty years into this story. The novelty of endless looking back is wearing off. Obama's campaign slogan in the last election against the hapless Mitt Romney had it exactly right: Forward.

C. O.: Are you going to retire from curating biennales after Venice?
O. E.: I am not the retiring type.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Anaocha Community launches free Igbo lesson for schools

In its quest to revive Igbo language in non-Igbo speaking states of the federation, Indigenes of Anaocha Town Union in Lagos State have unveiled plans to organise free Igbo Language lessons for children in various schools.
The President, Association of Indigenes of Anaocha Town Union (AIALG), Mr Martins Ileme, stated that a survey conducted by the union revealed a large number of children living in non-Igbo speaking states, born by Igbo parents, who hardly speak their native language.
He expressed shock that some of these children end up registering Yoruba and Hausa languages in their Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) at the expense of their local language.
Ileme described as worrisome the loss of interest in Igbo Language in most schools attributing the situation to incompetent teachers and the policy of some private schools that restrict students to only one local language.
He said the union would continue to promote programmes that will encourage the younger ones to appreciate the richness of Igbo language and culture.
He said new yam festival would also be introduced in Lagos by the town unions to celebrate the cultural heritage of Anambra people and educate their children further on the historical values of their home state.
Towards this end,  Ileme said an education trust fund would soon be instituted by the union to encourage positive interventions in needy schools. According to him, part of the fund would cover scholarships for students at various stages of learning.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Igbos, Think Home!

When, in the immediate post-Nigeria/Biafra Civil War years, Ukpabi Asika, then administrator of East Central State, told his fellow Igbos that “amnesty does not mean amnesia”, he meant to remind them that though the victorious Federal Government (or the rest of Nigeria, if you like) may have forgiven them, it certainly hasn’t forgotten – and it may never forget. But would he have envisaged that decades later, the Igbos would, unfortunately, themselves relapse into amnesia, forgetting totally the hard lessons of that brutal war? I doubt so.
I do not wish to return in detail to the various ways the Igbos have exhibited their collective amnesia since the civil war ended. I have amply dwelt on that in an earlier article “Are Igbos suffering from collective amnesia?” which is available online. The bottom line is this: huge Igbo investments are scattered in all parts of Nigeria with the exception of Igboland. Igbo people are all over the place contributing to socio-economic development while Igboland remains grossly underdeveloped.
There is a sense in which one can argue that the civil war experience – particularly the ‘abandoned property’ saga – did inculcate some sense of responsibility into the Igbos. Many of them who had lived in fine mansions in the cities where they had established themselves prior to the war returned home as refugees to squat in mud houses with their relatives in the villages. Reason: they had no homes in their homeland. That sad experience brought about a new thinking – aku ruo ulo (literally, let the wealth be felt at home). The Igbos learnt to take part of their wealth to their native land – in the form of community development projects through the town unions, as well as big mansions. But that did not seem to have lasted for long before they reverted to their pre-war ways.
To re-echo the optimism of many a Nigerian leader, this country won’t break up – and nobody prays it does. It’s not our portion (permit me to go Pentecostal just this once), but supposing, just supposing, considering the vagaries of our daily existence in this hole of a country, something happens to Nigeria right now? Sorry to say, but given the unquantifiable loss the Igbos have suffered, in man and material, in riots across Nigeria since 1953, it would be most tragic if, this time around, the Igbos are caught napping, with all their eggs in one wrecked basket.
Igbos are a migrant people. That’s given. It’ll sound unnecessarily repetitive to restate the oft echoed sentiment that wherever you go and don’t find an Igbo person, then that place must be uninhabitable. Writing as early as 1957 in West Africa: A Study of the Environment and Man’s Use of It, R. J. Harrison Church did assert that the “Ibo are found in temporary work all over Nigeria, and some 20,000 are employed in Fernando Po”. The Igbos have never looked back ever since; not even the events of 1966-70 could hold them back.
As it is, it’s obvious, given their stakes in their various host communities in other parts of Nigeria, that the Igbos cannot possibly return home en masse – permanently. That can’t and won’t happen – not even for those Igbos living in the flashpoints of northern Nigeria. It’s not even desirable at this point. Of course, Igboland cannot even contain all the Igbo people were they to suddenly return home. Igboland is a land-hungry area. Land hunger was part of the reasons the people emigrated out of their traditional homeland in the first place. What can be done for now is for the Igbos to begin to consider taking part of their investments home. It may not be economically viable at first, but it will be, over time, and it’s something worth doing, however you look at it. I often imagine what Igboland would be if just a quarter of Igbo investments in Lagos alone is brought back to Igboland!
We can take a cue from the fact that there are many foreigners living and doing business in Nigeria who make huge profits here and repatriate their profits to support the economies of their home countries. Nigerians in other parts of the world are also known to do the same. In 2012 alone, it is estimated that remittances from Nigerians in Diaspora into the Nigerian economy are in excess of N3 trillion. Who says Igbos in other parts of Nigeria (and the world) can’t do the same for Igboland?
But first, the governors of the five South-East states must work consciously and painstakingly to woo rich Igbo Diaspora back to Igboland. All this empty media hype won’t go anywhere. The Indian model may be instructive here. Every year, the Indian government organises Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Expatriate Indians’ Day), an annual jamboree of Diaspora Indians, which is also used to attract expatriate investment. The Indian government can do this because it places great premium on its Diasporans and what they can contribute. Shashi Tharoor, India’s minister of state for human resource development, admits: “The importance of diaspora financing – from the remittances of working-class Indians that have transformed Kerala’s countryside to the millions poured into high-tech businesses in Bangalore or Gurgaon by Silicon Valley investors – simply cannot be minimised, especially during a global financial crisis.” Yet, Tharoor makes a case for encouraging the Diasporans to do more, and giving them reasons to do more, because “when India allows its pravasis to feel at home, India itself is strengthened”. The South-East governors can take a leaf from this.
For their part, the Igbo Diaspora also have to show a willingness to come home to develop Igboland. Then they can begin by engaging their governors. The onus, as I’ve said, is on the governors to create the enabling environment in their various states to attract rich Igbo people to invest back home, but what if these governors lack the ideas? This is why the Igbo Diaspora cannot wait eternally for the governors. They can, as in the saying, be the mountain that goes to Muhammad. Igbos have developed swamps in the west and deserts in the north for too long, but that hasn’t moved Igboland an inch out of gross underdevelopment.
One other option for Igboland is to toe the line of regional integration that has become a fad across the country. As I have argued elsewhere, “To say that the states of the South-East need economic integration as much as other regions of the country – or even more so – is merely stating the obvious. There is no doubt that the South-East is among the least developed areas of the country – if not the very least – in terms of infrastructure, which is worsened by the virtual absence of federal projects in the region. This is one reason the Igbos of the South-East are scattered in all parts of Nigeria and the world where they contribute immeasurably to development, while their home region remains a backwater. Joining forces will likely reverse this trend. Working together, the South-East states, rather than wait eternally for a sleeping – or politics-playing – Federal Government, can pool resources and commence work on the direly needed Second Niger Bridge and such other projects, rehabilitation of the badly damaged interstate roads in the region, and development of other infrastructure that would bring the Igbos back home to invest.”
While these things may not be as straight-forward as I present them, and while I can’t claim that this is the final word, I believe it’s a starting point. Let others who have the good of Igboland at heart join this debate. Who knows, we might still be able to redeem Igboland from its present calamitous state; we might still be able to wrest Igboland from the grip of kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals who have made visiting home a nightmare for many (especially since some pundits believe these crimes are rooted in the widespread joblessness in the land); and we might still be able to move all these Ebonyi children hawking all-what-nots at every bus stop back to their state where they can contribute more meaningfully to the development of both themseves and their state. So help us God.